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Invisible Cities (A Harvest/Hbj Book) [Paperback]

Italo Calvino
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book by Calvino, Italo

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This short book is both a parable about power and a wonderful compendium of magical places as enchanting as the late medieval traveler's tales that Calvino has clearly absorbed. The aged dictator Khan sits at the edge of a vast empire that he has never actually toured. The nimble Marco Polo, by contrast, possesses no territory; only the memory of his many travels.
Like Sheherazade recounting her thousand-and-one tales, Polo finds himself in the position of having to recollect for Khan the descriptions of the many cities that he ostensibly possesses. Polo thus becomes the Khan's only source for information about the cities in his territory; hence their 'invisibility.' But the descriptions he gives of the cities seem increasingly fantastic and elaborate. The Khan is skeptical. Polo, for his part, insists that he is being frank.
The question at the center of the book becomes: who possesses these cities? Kublai Khan, or Marco Polo? What are we to make of the possibility that Polo, for all his protestations, is being less than honest with the Khan? In which case, do the cities exist only in the traveler's imagination? If so, is the Khan's empire therefore merely a dream and an invention?
The brevity of each section (1 to 3 pages) and the sensual pleasures Calvino's descriptions provoke makes this book exquisite bed-time reading. In fact, older children would probably also enjoy the beauty of this charming tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Entire Universe per Page Jan. 28 2012
I think that anything that's written about this book will pale in comparison to the wonders it contains. This is my best shot at capturing a movie with black and white still photography.

Every page or two contains an incredibly unique description of a city that itself stands as a symbol for some other deeper meaning. I got the impression that each of these cities could have spawned an entire 300-page novel but you get all of their wonder and meaning condensed into a page or two of beautifully written prose poetry. It's like walking through an art gallery where every painting is not only distinct from every other one, but also different that anything you've ever imagined yourself. For the first half of the book I kept worrying that it couldn't possibly continue to be this good'it did! Then for the second half of the book I kept worrying about the fact that I was quickly running out of pages in what was one of the most special books I've ever read. The cities aren't just interesting for their bizarre and astounding architecture, but also the customs and beliefs of the people that live there and ultimately the meaning that you can find in each of them.

This is all tied together by intermittent conversations between Kahn and Polo and their musings on the nature of reality and meaning.

I don't think that any book will change anyone's life. But the best books give you a new perspective on the world, or a germ of an idea or a glimpse at a feeling'a shred of deeper meaning that you can then take with you and make something out of if you so choose. This is one of those books.

Give it a shot. All it will take is a couple of pages to hook you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Polo vs Kublai in the world's series of cities. March 2 2001
Marco Polo arrived in Katai (now China) by traveling as long as 3 years and a half. He would be staying at the Kublai Khan's court for 17 years as ambassador and governor. Thanks to his experience and travels book the commercial enterprise will develop into the Far East during the next centuries. Most of the cities Polo had written of don't exist in the modern era. Some changed their name. Kublai Khan was chief of an endless empire whose capital he established in Khanbalik (Peking). He ruled from Mongolia to Tibet, from China to Birman: was he a right and wise sovereign too? Polo would answer affirmative, but we know he had been an employee by Kublai who paid the duties to him for a fortune! It's common knowledge in Italy that the memories of Polo were titled 'The Million' to remember such a wealth. This is the history... "Why do you lie, foreigner?". Kublai Khan noticed all the cities Polo told him were seeming to resemble as though the passing from one to another shouldn't imply a journey but an exchange of elements only. Promptly Khan was going to browse on his atlas the maps of the cities which threaten from nightmares and curses: Enoch, Babylon, Yahoo, Butua, Brave New World... And this is "The Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino. Maybe you too, while surfing the Net, realize the differences are going to vanish and each city looks like all other cities, an out-and-out dust swarms into the continents. Cities akin to Dante's Inferno? Read the book or write to me to get answer!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible cities - visible genius Feb. 5 2001
Calvino is well-known for stretching the form of the novel, and Invisible Cities is certainly innovative in this respect. Somewhat in the style of '1001 Nights', the reader is offered a series of one page descriptions of the cities Marco Polo has visited on his travels. Interspersed with this are conversations between Polo and his patron, Kublai Khan. The Khan has not seen these places because his empire is simply too big. In this sense the cities are invisible. However, it becomes increasingly likely that Marco Polo hasn't seen them either. Is he describing nothing but different facets of his home town, Venice - or is he making the whole thing up?
Wherever the truth may lie, each city Polo describes is simultaneously fantastic and true. Each page captures the magical reality of urban life, in a way that no 'realist' account ever could. Not only is this a great novel, it is a novel all town planners and architects should be forced to read. Calvino reminds us that we will only ever live in cities as grand as our imaginations. What we need is to imagine more vividly.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars masterpiece
a book that you can read again and again and never get tired as you always find new stories within the stories. Read more
Published 14 months ago by mohamad
5.0 out of 5 stars Surpassed my Expectations
I received the book Invisible Cities within a couple weeks of ordering it. The book looks practically brand new. It came with a packing slip and thank you for ordering. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Jo-Ann
4.0 out of 5 stars Cities of the mind
"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue... Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2011 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars a must own! ...
i read excerpts from this book a couple years before i got into architecture school, it was one of the things that helped give me that final push into choosing architecture as my... Read more
Published on April 22 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars BORING AND REPETITIVE
i had to read this for school, i hated it. its boring and repetitive. you can read the first 2 or 3 chapters and thats all you need, because it doesnt change. Read more
Published on March 4 2002 by Jon
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and Surreal
This book, if any, merits more than a single, swift reading. It is a rare gem which should be savored gradually. Read more
Published on July 13 2001 by "the_kenosha_kid"
4.0 out of 5 stars the adventures of marco polo...
if they were told by scherazade....the story is trippy...history mixed in with some sci-fi...nice thing about the book is you don't have to be a sci-fi or history buff to really... Read more
Published on May 23 2001 by Erren Geraud Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars The Endless Possibilities of Human Creativity
This is one of my two or three all-time favorite books. Why? Because Calvino manages to capture and express the endless possibilities for human creativity. Read more
Published on May 11 2001 by Bruce Schachne
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite
For many people Invisible Cities is their favorite Calvino novel. While it is not quite mine (I prefer If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and The Baron in the Trees) no one would... Read more
Published on Dec 20 2000 by pnotley@hotmail.com
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